Alaska: Where Things Really Are Bigger

Travelers can go big in Alaska on an expedition that hits the inland highlights, plus some choice coastal wonders.

When it comes to state superlatives, America’s 49th claims a slew of titles. Alaska has the longest cumulative coastline in the country (33,904 miles); highest peak (Denali); most airplane pilots per capita (about 1 in every 60 people); and the northernmost, westernmost, and easternmost point (meridians are tricky like that).

More than twice the size of boastful Texas, Alaska also claims “largest state in the union.” If you went to grade school in America like I did, chances are you were tricked by that last one during an impromptu oral geography quiz. Often pictured floating off the fictional Arizona coastline where Mexico should have been, and almost never drawn to scale, Alaska’s size was impossible for my developing brain to comprehend. I joined the “Texas!” chorus.

Decades later, on my first visit to the state, its vastness was somehow more unfathomable than ever. Alaska’s grandeur hit me again and again during my expedition from Fairbanks to Seward: It stunned me on the train ride through the Alaska Range; gobsmacked me as I gazed out across Denali’s sweeping tundra; and astonished me from the top of Mount Alyeska and from the base of an advancing tidewater glacier in the Kenai Fjords.

Alaska’s size is what stuck with me most after I returned home, despite all the incredible wildlife I spotted (puffins and orcas and bears, oh my!), the characters I met (including the Iditarod’s first female contestant), and the small wonders I spied (I’m newly obsessed with mushrooms). And while we covered a lot of ground on our journey, any local will tell you that it would take a lifetime of exploration to even scratch the surface of this great state—the iciest, most volcanic, and least reptilian in the union.